A Reading from the Book of Job (23:1-9, 16-17)
Job said: “Today also my complaint is bitter; his hand is heavy despite my groaning. Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his dwelling! I would lay my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments. I would learn what he would answer me, and understand what he would say to me. Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power? No; but he would give heed to me. There an upright person could reason with him, and I should be acquitted forever by my judge. If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him; on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him; I turn to the right, but I cannot see him. God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has terrified me; If only I could vanish in darkness, and thick darkness would cover my face!”
1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? *
and are so far from my cry
and from the words of my distress?
2 O my God, I cry in the daytime, but you do not answer; *
by night as well, but I find no rest.
3 Yet you are the Holy One, *
enthroned upon the praises of Israel.
4 Our forefathers put their trust in you; *
they trusted, and you delivered them.
5 They cried out to you and were delivered; *
they trusted in you and were not put to shame.
6 But as for me, I am a worm and no man, *
scorned by all and despised by the people.
7 All who see me laugh me to scorn; *
they curl their lips and wag their heads, saying,
8 “He trusted in the Lord; let him deliver him; *
let him rescue him, if he delights in him.”
9 Yet you are he who took me out of the womb, *
and kept me safe upon my mother’s breast.
10 I have been entrusted to you ever since I was born; *
you were my God when I was still in my mother’s womb.
11 Be not far from me, for trouble is near,*
and there is none to help.
12 Many young bulls encircle me; *
strong bulls of Bashan surround me.
13 They open wide their jaws at me, *
like a ravening and a roaring lion.
14 I am poured out like water;
all my bones are out of joint; *
my heart within my breast is melting wax.
A Reading from the Letter to the Hebrews (4:12-16)
The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account. Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Mark (10:17-31)
As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Many years ago, I came across the results of an interesting and informative survey that asked people of varying income levels, “How much money would be enough for you? With how much would you be satisfied?” From those with the lowest income to those with the highest, the most common answer was surprisingly the same: “about 20% more than I have now.” No matter how little or how much people had, they always wanted more. And it seems apparent that, even if they were able to get that 20% more, they would still not be satisfied, but would want an additional 20%, and on and on. No matter how much we have, it seems that we are just not content with what we have.
For many people, it seems, money trumps everything else. That was certainly true of the man who, in today’s gospel reading, runs up to Jesus, kneels before him, and urgently asks what he must do to inherit the fullness of life. He does not appear to be asking what he has to do now in order to go the heaven when he dies. Typical for Mark’s version of the gospel, he is asking about a full and complete life here and now. As N.T. Wright puts it, “The journey he wants is horizontal, not vertical.”
In response to Jesus’ own question, he asserts that he has already kept the commandments: the precepts of Torah. Jesus obviously takes him at his word for, as Mark describes the scene, “Jesus, looking at him, loved him”; and then he went on to give him the key to that life: “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” Notice the five short, but life-challenging imperatives in Jesus’ response: “Go, sell…, give; then come, follow” — so concise, so clear, and so terribly hard to do.
The man, Mark tells us, “was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.” Jesus, it appears, went away sad as well. Maybe, so do we. It is so hard to accept the cost – whether in money, time, or effort – to do what, we at least say, we value the most.
We, as people of faith, have a special concern for those in our community and world who are not as fortunate as we are. Yet all too often, we confine our concern to words only. When it comes to providing for them, whether through additional taxes or through increased contributions, we quickly pull back and try to convince ourselves that they really don’t need the money, and it wouldn’t really help them anyway.
But that hesitancy to go, sell, give, come, and follow is not restricted to our monetary wealth. It tends to extend to our use of our time and efforts as well. We admire and verbally support the work of those who volunteer their time serving, for example, the church or those who lack sufficient food or our community’s children or our low-income elderly; but, when we see a need for us to use our time to serve them directly, we quickly pull back. We don’t want to be “tied down” by committing ourselves. What we choose to ignore is the gospel’s paradoxical message that it is only by allowing ourselves to be “tied down” in this way – in the generous service to others – that we can find true freedom.
In the gospel according to Mark, Jesus never tried to sell his followers anything without clearly confronting them with the cost. On past Sundays, we heard him talking about the necessity of taking up one’s cross and following him. And next week, we will hear him responding to James and John about the cost of discipleship. Jesus never tried to sugar-coat anything. He made it clear what the price of following him would be. It necessarily involved suffering and sacrifice.
But focusing on what is most important not only involves suffering and sacrifice. It also frees us to live life in a new way. It enables us to live even now in the kingdom of God, living by the values of the kingdom, without worrying so much about holding on to those things that can never bring us happiness. And that can be a very liberating experience.
John Muir was a botanist, an ardent lover of the natural world, and a pioneering conservationist. It was he who convinced President Theodore Roosevelt to establish the national park system, and he spent the rest of his life helping to develop that system and working to protect it. In doing so, he naturally came into direct conflict with those who wanted to exploit these lands for their own personal gain.
One prominent industrialist with whom John Muir consistently locked horns was E. H. Harriman, one of the wealthiest Americans of his time, who controlled the Union Pacific Railroad. Harriman constantly sought to expand the railroad’s reach despite the toll that his actions would have on the natural environment and on the lives of those living nearby. Much to his frustration, John Muir stood in his way and convinced others to do so.
One time, when John Muir was asked about Harriman, he told the reporter that he felt sorry for that poor man. The inquirer was shocked: Muir didn’t seem to own anything, he had only the clothes on his back, and Harriman was the richest man around. Why would the preservationist feel sorry for his opponent and refer to him as a “poor man”? “Because,” he explained, “I have all the money I want, but he never will.”
What is it that you want most in life? Is it genuine happiness, a sense of fulfillment, a sense of purpose, a realization that you are making a positive difference in the lives of others? Are you longing to live even now in the kingdom of God and to experience that “peace of God that passes all understanding”? If those are your highest goals, the things that you desire the most, are you willing to subordinate other wants to achieve your goal? Are you willing to go, sell, give, come, and follow – to use not only your wealth, but also your time and your energy in doing the work of the kingdom?
Jesus once called the rich man to follow him; but, for the only time in Mark’s version of the gospel, the one who was called refused. God still calls us, just as God once called the prophets, including the prophet Jesus. When God asks today, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” are you ready, knowing the costs and the rewards, to join them in replying, “Here am I; send me”?